Mason Launches MA in Middle East and Islamic Studies

by Ezzat Shehadeh

The Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies and the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University are pleased to launch a new MA in Middle East and Islamic studies.

The program will launch formally in fall 2013; however, a small group of applicants was accepted for earlier admission in spring 2013. Bassam Haddad, BA International Studies ’92, director of the Middle East Studies Program, and Maria Dakake, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, were the key figures behind the program’s creation and remain closely affliated with it.

The program aims to reposition the study of the Middle East and Islam within a global context to help students better analyze particular issues in light of current events and shifting historical paradigms. The program’s core classes provide a solid background in both fields of study. Students can choose to focus their course work on either Middle East studies or Islamic studies. A variety of complementary electives allow students to gain a unique understanding of the complex issues prevalent in both fields by examining historical and contemporary subjects across different disciplines.

With the recent popular uprisings in Arab countries, the transformation of social and political dynamics from North Africa to the Arab East and our distinguished faculty’s work in new media, this program is truly timely. Students will study the region from multiple angles and explore emerging trends that shape current discourse in Middle East studies.

“The Middle East and Muslim world have been very important for the United States in the past decade,” says Peter Mandaville, the director of the Ali Vural Ak Center and director of the MA program. “However, these parts of the world have not always been well understood by the public and by those who find themselves in positions of responsibility in government, nonprofit, and developmental positions. We have the opportunity to shape the understanding of those whose work in turn has significant impact on the Middle East and Islamic world.”

The program takes a global approach to the study of Islam’s diverse communities, rich history, and rapidly changing political realities. This perspective offers students a broader understanding of the Muslim experience outside of any particular regional framework. While topics in Islamic studies occasionally intersect with those of the Middle East, the degree’s curriculum incorporates subjects well beyond these borders to reflect the vast intellectual interests that define Islamic studies today. The faculty’s expertise in Islamic history, political Islam, and different religious trends will allow students to pursue a more nuanced study of Islam around the world while attaining the necessary skills to compete in today’s job market after graduation.

“Our program tries to engage Islam as a global tradition,” Mandaville says. “We want to spend as much time teaching and studying the Muslim experience in places like Senegal, Pakistan, and Malaysia as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”